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Bushel & Peck Books Amplifies Their Mission of Giving in Response to the Coronavirus Crisis

Thursday, April 2, 2020   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Christopher Locke
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Sunset Elementary School in Fresno, CA receives the first full donation from Bushel & Peck Books founder David Miles (far right): fifty copies of Big Words for Fearless Girls.

Bushel & Peck Books has based the entire business model for their independent publishing company on giving (more on that later), and the moment the coronavirus pandemic hit, they ramped up their efforts even more.

“With so much anxiety and fear sweeping the country,” says Bushel & Peck Books co-founder David Miles, “we felt it was important that we find a way to help. It occurred to us that with so many schools closed, parents (us included!) are pulling their hair out trying to keep their kids occupied for weeks. Well, we're a children's publisher, and we have a whole catalog of content that we know kids would love to read. We decided to temporarily make nearly all of our children's books available online for free. We also offered free PDFs of doodle and coloring books (that we normally sell on Amazon) for people to print off. It just seemed like the right thing to do. We believe that building a strong relationship with our readers—one based on genuine concern, love, and a sincere desire to help kids and families—is the best investment we could ever make.”

Giving away so many of their books for free is perfectly in line with the mission of Bushel & Peck Books: for every book that they sell, they donate a book to a child in need.

Bushel & Peck Books founders Stephanie and David Miles are pictured with their son Tucker.

“During the early days of planning and launching Bushel & Peck Books,” says David, “something Familius Founder and President Christopher Robbins used to always tell me when I worked at Familius was on my mind: 'David, we can have any kind of company we want to have.' It’s true. There are really no rules about what a publishing company has to look like, and during our start-up days at Bushel & Peck Books, that freedom was both invigorating and sobering. Stephanie (David’s wife and Bushel & Peck Books co-founder) and I had this one chance to build something—shouldn’t it be something that made the world a better place?

“As Stephanie and I wrestled with how to do that, we were inspired by the one-for-one model that companies like Toms have been using for several years. It’s so simple and concrete. No percentages, no misleading figures, no caps on giving—just one for one. And the more we dug into the research, the more apparent it became that even in America, many kids are in dire need of better access to age-appropriate reading material. We won’t get into all the numbers here, but in a nutshell, literacy and book ownership play a huge role in the outcomes a child experiences in life. And so, the Book-for-Book Promise was born, and we’ve never looked back. We encourage members of the IBPA community to let us know where else we can donate free books to. We have a nomination form set up for that here.”

For other independent publishers who would like to pursue this altruistic business model, David has some advice: “We’ll say at the outset here that there is an element of sacrifice required. There’s no question that there are some economic upsides to being a socially-conscious company—the research on that is quite clear—but when you go all in with a model like this, you have to accept that your profit margins are simply going to look different from those of other companies. Giving is going to cost you something, but the thing is, we’re okay with that. If we didn’t feel the pinch, we wouldn’t feel we were giving enough. Never use charitable giving as a marketing ploy—it needs to be genuine.

“As for the nuts and bolts of making something like this work financially, there are several things to consider. First, most of the books we donate are paperbacks and are printed specifically for that purpose. That helps keep our costs manageable, but it also helps nonprofits who may be distributing books to keep their shipping costs in check, too. Second, make sure you bake the book-for-book giving right into your financials. Every part of your company should be aligned with making that possible. In our case, we keep our overhead low and offer slightly lower royalties to our authors (they’re really part of the team helping to make this possible). Third, stick to products with higher retail prices so you have more margin to work with. For us, this means staying away from board books, coloring books, etc. and filling our list with higher-end products (which we love making anyway!)

“Each year, we select what book we’d like to donate and create a paperback format of it specifically for donating. Recognizing that the books we give might be the only ones a kid will own, we try to only pick books that are uplifting and aspirational. We want the book to be something a child can turn to and see their own potential reflected in those pages. Also, we don’t skimp on quality. Yes, it’s a paperback, but these aren’t the things you’ll find in some fast food kid’s meal. We want it to feel good in a child’s hand and be treasured.”

Bushel & Peck's upcoming release The True West by Mifflin Lowe.

David goes on to say how great the response to their donation program has been. “One of the things we hear the most is how much people appreciate receiving new books. There are some programs throughout the country for recycling old, used books, but it’s so special to these kids to receive something brand new. Many schools say they plan to give the books as gifts to kids that need them most. Others with fewer resources use the books to stock their library shelves. The needs are all different, and we try to be flexible in how we donate.”

David shares the new Bushel & Peck Books titles that are coming out in 2020. “We’ll be releasing a fantastic story about Notre Dame de Paris, an anthology by #1 New York Times bestselling authors, some terrific puppet books that breathe fresh air into children’s biography, and a groundbreaking kid’s book on black cowboys.”


Five Questions with Bushel & Peck Books Co-Founder David Miles

IBPA: Do you have any tips for other indie publishers about how to weather the effects of the coronavirus on their businesses?

David Miles (DM): More than anything, remember that this is a chance to show your humanity. We want to look back on this time and know that we did everything we could to help others in need. Yes, we have to watch the bottom line, cash flow, and all the rest of it, but we would be sorry indeed if we didn't do our part to strengthen those around us. There are many ways to do that! In addition to offering free content, we've kept a steady stream of uplifting quotes on our Instagram feed to keep spirits bright. The important thing is to do all this sincerely and genuinely. You've probably received a lot of emails from companies "helping" during this time. Some feel heartfelt and real, and others you can quickly sniff out as marketing ploys. Be real, let your guard down, and be there for your readers!

As for the business realities of what we're facing, there are things we can control and things we can't. Our sales are slower than we expected, and that's okay. We had to make some adjustments to our upcoming season, and that's okay. The economy will ebb and flow, and that's okay. We'll find a way through it, and whatever we look like on the other end of all this, that will be okay. In the meantime, be sure to check out the government's relief package and see if you qualify for any benefits. There is a lot of help out there!

[IBPA’s COVID-19 Resource Center has a list of financial assistance opportunities.]

IBPA: You’re also starting author presentations to low-income schools where classes usually can’t afford them. Can you tell us more about this program?

DM: This is a new initiative for us and we’re still working out the full details of the program, but our plan is to set up pro-bono author visits by Bushel & Peck Books authors alongside a grant program where we help schools bring in other big-name authors from other publishing houses.

Stephanie and I have done several author visits ourselves, and many have been to low-income schools where kids will likely never have this experience again. You should see the kids’ eyes light up. We draw, we talk about writing, we read, we laugh, and at the end of it all, we try to leave the kids believing that they’re able to do so much more than they give themselves credit for. They’re smart. They’re creative. They’re imaginative. They’re perceptive. They have every reason to be able to succeed in life—they just need people to believe in them.

After every author presentation, there is always a handful of special kids who seem to have found a new spark. They’re so proud of their drawings. They talk nonstop about the book they want to write. They show you stories they’ve been working on. It’s as if they just needed someone to say, “You can do it!” and they’re off to the races. We want to bring that experience to more kids—it’s incredible! We know it doesn’t solve all the problems these kids are facing, but it’s like adding some fertilizer to the soil, and the world could sure use more of it.

IBPA: Can you share tips for how to make an engaging presentation to young students?

Bushel & Peck Books' David Miles conducts an author visit at an elementary school.

DM: First, think like a kid! Spend some time thinking back to that young age and remember what it was like. What was important to you? What did you dream of? What were you afraid of? What was fun? What was boring?

Second, have a clear intention for your author visit. Selling books is fine, but if that’s your main intention, it will come through and you’ll never connect with your kids (in fact, we don’t sell anything during our visits). A successful presentation will leave an impression on kids. What will yours be? Are you there to inspire? To encourage? To explore a career together? You became an author because you had a message you wanted to share—here’s your chance!

Third, have a plan and keep things moving. The younger the child, the shorter the attention span, so find ways to jump around with topics and activities that keep things interesting. Be sure to watch for signs that kids are getting restless and switch things up, even if it goes against your plan. Remember: once you lose the kids, it’s pretty tough to bring them back.

Fourth, be generous with praise and encouragement. Be a cheerleader. This is your chance to have a lasting impact on these young lives. If you have kids writing or drawing, walk around and make a point to give every kid a compliment. Praise their work. Commend their imagination. You are like a celebrity to them, and a compliment from you will mean so much to them. Imagine them going home and telling their parents, “An author told me he liked my work! Can you believe it?” You never know how much that can mean and what path it will set that child on.

IBPA: Can you list three key lessons you’ve learned about how one can succeed as an independent publisher?

DM:

  1. Try to offer real, novel solutions to people. Books don’t compete against other books—they compete against other solutions that someone might have to a problem. Work to make sure that the solutions you’re offering are better than what’s out there.

  2. Think deeper than trends. Many publishers fall into the trend trap. “Cupcakes are big right now! Hummus is the new bestseller!” We’ve all done it, and while there’s nothing wrong with jumping on a trend, remember that every other publisher is planning to do the same thing and that markets do eventually fatigue. Think critically about how you can offer something unique and meaningful to the conversation. Think about what’s driving the trend. For example, what was happening socially that made coloring books so appealing? What happened in the world that made girl empowerment virtually its own genre? As you explore a trend from all angles, you’ll discover parallel problems that no one is offering a solution for. That’s where you can make a difference.

  3. Build a brand directly with your readers. As book retail continues to change, we believe it’s all the more essential that publishers do the difficult work of building a meaningful relationship with their readers. For general trade publishers, this can be challenging. It’s much more doable for a focused brand with a tight niche. We’ve been delighted to see the steady growth of a Bushel & Peck Books fan base that seems to appreciate our uplifting topics and focus on quality design and illustration. And we don’t market that heavily to them. We instead share process updates, family photos, pictures of our son’s accomplishments, stories of people who have received free books from us, and other content that ties us all together as a large, book-loving family. It’s fun!

IBPA: How has it been beneficial to you to be a member of Independent Book Publishers Association?

DM: IBPA has been very helpful. We found an invaluable rights attorney through the IBPA Supplier & Services Discovery Database and plan to take advantage of the discounts on independent publishing services for IBPA members, as well.

IBPA: Thank you for sharing your insight, David, and we applaud Bushel & Peck Books on your charitable efforts!

Click here to learn more about Bushel & Peck Books!


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